Friday, October 19, 2018
Watched the film Operation Finale the other night. Mediocre movie in just about all aspects with the exception of Ben Kingsley's performance as Adolph Eichmann which is chillingly riveting in an Anthony Hopkins' as Hannibal Lecter kind of way. What we know of Eichmann's character is only what we can discern from his Jerusalem trial: the bespectacled, bookish-looking, headphone-wearing person standing in the bullet-proof glass box. He looks like an accountant or a bureaucrat, stoically convinced that he was 'just following orders' as Hannah Arendt says. But Ben Kingsley's version of Eichmann is far less banal. Since the movie is about the capture of Eichmann, Kingsley's portrayal begins with his domestic life in Argentina and shows a paranoid man with secrets; a sinister, clever, cold, calculating individual with psychopathic tendencies simmering just below the surface. Watching Operation Finale was preceded coincidentally a few days before by watching a documentary on TV called "Scrapbook from Hell: The Auschwitz Album" about a relatively recently discovered album of photographs that belonged to SS officer Klaus Hoecker who was at the most notorious death camp of all during the period in 1944 when the murder factory was in highest gear as the liquidation of Hungarian Jews was in full swing. The album is shocking for its banality - page after page of SS officers drinking, smiling, socializing together with family, friends and colleagues, after a long day of working the gas chambers and crematoria. It's truly sickening. So in this week of thinking about the true nature of evil and the unredeemable acts of unrepentant men, and in particular people like Eichmann and Hoecker - who was convicted of aiding and abetting over 1,000 murders at Auschwitz, but because he could not be conclusively identified on the selection ramp, in a travesty of justice, was sentenced to a mere 7 years in 1965, and in 1970 returned to normal life as a bank clerk where he worked until retirement - I have been imagining what would have been a more fitting punishment for them and people like them. Death by hanging was too good for Eichmann. Life in prison would've also been too easy. Surely there is another more innovative and appropriate method, a truly hellish prison to which Eichmann could be committed. I would have injected Eichmann with a serum that would paralyze him permanently from the eyes down. Render him unable to do anything but blink, like the so-called locked-in syndrome that tragically afflicts some people who've suffered strokes. Then I would hook Eichmann him up to machines that ensured he is nourished and cleaned regularly for as long as his natural (and perhaps unnatural) life permits. He would continue to live with awareness and consciousness but without possibility of interaction that would offer any type of enjoyment, pleasure or satisfaction. And then I would put him in a bullet proof glass box, maybe the same one that was used during his Jerusalem trial, and display him in a public venue in Israel, so that the people (and by people I mean the entire nation) he victimized could come to see him. I imagine school children learning about the Holocaust coming by the busloads, their teachers pointing him out, saying this is what we mean when we say 'evil', look how ordinary he is, how harmless he looks, this was the unrepentant architect of an attempted genocide, one of the most despicable people who ever lived. I imagine Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren spitting at him, cursing him, laughing at him, teasing him, crying in his face as they show him photos of the loved ones he and his crew murdered. I imagine ordinary people gawking at him in disgust. Day in and day out people would come and stare at Eichmann in his box, and he would have to listen to their pain and suffering, for eternity.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Sears means a great deal to me. Not because I ever shopped there. Because they were one of the biggest, if not the biggest, retailer of clothing in Canada. And that means they bought more Canadian-made clothing than anyone. They were the foundation of the shmata industry. Which also means that they supported my family for at least two generations. My grandfather Sam Solomon (Sample Manufacturing Corp.) and my dad (Carla Jane Dress Inc.) sold millions of garments to Sears over the years, both through their stores, but more importantly through their catalogue. Sam was the industry innovator of the private label dress business and Sears (the label I remember best was 'Jessica') was his biggest customer for a long time. Some of my fondest memories growing up came from being in dad's office and listening to him and his brothers Hy and Charlie talk about Sears 'check-out' of their styles and the 'back-up' Sears was demanding for their catalogue. Sears always pushed them to innovate. They were the first to demand that their suppliers use computer coding to maintain inventory for 'just-in-time' supply management. In more recent years, as manufactured garments turned to imports, Sears demanded rebates from suppliers on exchange rates, which gave my dad fits. They also imposed prohibitive penalties for late delivery. But there was no way of getting around the terms Sears demanded. They were simply too big and important to the industry to shun their business. The more Sears scrimped and saved to try to survive in the last decade, the more obvious it became the industry as we'd known it was on its last legs. With the writing on the wall, my cousins decided to close the business founded in 1949 a year after dad died in 2012.
PS. The cartoon was something I drew in '99 using the pseudonym Solomon as a tribute to my grandfather.
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
|Sam Solomon circa 1980|
Painting was Sam's avocation, but art certainly had greater meaning for him than a mere pastime. It seems to me that he could not call himself an artist for two reasons; a. he did not earn his living from his art, and for Sam, owing to his impoverished upbringing, only making money at an activity gave it true legitimacy and value, and b. he could never wholly commit himself to it, because ultimately, I don't think he could ever truly believe in it. On the contrary, I think he considered art, especially the modern and contemporary art which he most tried to emulate, to be the very antithesis of possessing any intrinsic value, because it had no discernible functionality or utility, not even a religious or didactic purpose as in centuries passed. Aesthetically, contemporary art was principally self-conscious and self-referential. Market forces had made art an elitist absurdity. Owning a certain kind of art - determined arbitrarily by taste-makers and marketers - was valued only for the prestige and status that it accorded, and therefore no different than owning a Dior or a Cadillac, except that Dior covered your body and Cadillac could get you from one place to the next.
|'Picasso' drawing, signed and dated 1947|
|'Sculpting' with paint|
I don't know if Sam believed that in the age of Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans and Brillo Boxes art could still be original. But I do think that he maintained a nostalgic, romantic notion of the artist as heroic, the artist as protean visionary creator whose work can have influence, transcend and leave a genuine mark on the world. Ultimately, maybe he thought his art could never rise to that lofty status, and maybe he feared that he could never be anything more than a salesman.